That’s What Parents Are For

When I chose to go away for college back in 1982 (yikes!) it started an era that my parents usually described as “showing them the world”. They’d designated me as that guy.

My parents aren’t that literal. I haven’t flown them all over the world, but I did introduce them to many things…foods, people, places, cultures, minds. Play that against the generally static background grid by which many people measure difference, time, space, in northeastern Pennsylvania, it’s even more of a contrast.

Marie (mom) has been surprised over the years that I’ve learned a lot of the kinds of things that contribute to a personal body of wisdom, learned them a lot younger in life than they had, that some things I’ve experienced have informed their own wisdom. I remind her that these are the kinds of things that come along in a life lived.

She stops me, usually, because she needs to pause for it herself. That’s when I know she’s going to mention all the “wonderful” (her word) things I did in order to take care of Allen throughout our relationship, that I was never too proud or too stubborn to ask for help (mom’s a nurse, I needed caregiving help, I asked for it). Neither she nor my dad have had to live through the death of a spouse—thank the universe—but they both lived through the deaths of both their parents. My mom lost her mom when she was only 30 years old. I was 31 when Allen died. His death wasn’t at all unexpected; her mom died suddenly of a heart attack while she was on her hands and knees scrubbing a floor. Mom’s mom was only 56.

The point here is that everyone has experiences. You can’t not live and not get them, unless you find yourself a social cocoon, an employment cocoon and a cave to live in. Life is different than you are. Life brings in the outside (if you let it). Life puts you in the thick of things, where sorting it out is required, where conflict happens and thus are new worlds born. Worlds you get dropped into the thick of. Worlds that need sorting. Worlds that bring new conflicts. And yes, new resolutions if you dare to work towards them.

I think what Marie is getting at is that I bother to share the lessons. And knowing my parents as well as I do—I’ve known them practically all my life—I know how to talk to them in order to communicate as effectively as possible.

They both say these things to me and there’s a tinge of wonderment in how they talk about it, as if I was smarter or wiser or possessing of some kind of sagacity that had passed them by at my age.

What they don’t realize is that wisdom is one of those faculties that scales. By that I mean that is simply this: wisdom imparted is wisdom learned. You can’t impart wisdom like you can transfer a kidney or a property or a mobile phone plan. If I carry wisdom I can’t wrap it up and hand it to you with a bow on it. No one can. What I can do is live within my wisdom in order to help another live in his. Nothing more and nothing less.

It was the very fact of having two parents each brimming with vastly different shades and textures of wisdom and perhaps more importantly their willingness to share it all. Wisdom without application is another cocoon: one at the top of an inhuman ivory tower.

I gather wisdom at the rate and quality I do because of the care and effort of my parents showing me how they gathered theirs.

So when my parents recently offered that they’ve learned that just because personal histories with other people have intertwined and overlapped, there is no obligation to maintain that intermingling. More important is: do those persons add to your own happiness and fulfillment or do they subtract from it? Do they do neither? My parents’ answer: in the absence of immortality, time is better spent with those who add to your happiness and enrich your lives. They no longer have time for those who are “downers” because they don’t like how they feel when they’re around those types.

Did listening to them move the sentiment directly from hearing into memory? No, of course not. Wisdom isn’t just a memory. What did happen, was that they helped me to arrive at the same conclusion. Different people, different reasons, different places, different times: and different remedies.

Without their wisdom, my own faculty might be less probing. Might be more simplistic, or even just simpler.

The beauty of wisdom is that isn’t immeasurable.

My own personal wisdom let me to their same conclusion: choose to be around the people who make you feel more like you. Disgard social bonds with those who insist you feel more like them.

Tonight I spent several hours with long-time friends of mine who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Doing so wasn’t wisdom, it was a choice. Ignoring the past, the length of the span of time, and setting aside possible awkwardnesses because of…that’s wisdom.